SEATTLE (AP) Throughout his first two years at Washington, Dante Pettis was regularly regarded as a player with the potential to be great.
At times the Huskies would be teased by what Pettis might become. Then the wide receiver would disappear for long stretches and remain invisible while standing on the field.
''I think maybe it was a little bit of confidence,'' Washington quarterback Jake Browning said. ''I think he's done a good job. Last year people would get kind of physical with him and he was kind of having to work to get off that. Now I think the confidence part, going into his third year of playing - he played a lot as a freshman and then last year as a sophomore - you know just taking that next step.''
That next step has come for Pettis this season as he has grown into an invaluable part of Washington's offense and one of the reasons the Huskies find themselves in the Peach Bowl opposite top-ranked Alabama. While teammate John Ross has gotten plenty of headlines for finding the end zone 19 total times this season, Pettis isn't far behind with 14 touchdown receptions and perhaps the biggest special teams play of the year when he returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give Washington a 31-24 win at Utah .
''I knew that (my) numbers would increase,'' Pettis said. ''I wasn't sure by how much.''
Pettis has regularly been praised as one the most improved offensive players from the end of the 2015 season along with running back Lavon Coleman. Pettis said that bump in productivity and success came from fully buying into coach Chris Petersen's program.
''Coming to workouts, coming to practice every day fully prepared,'' Pettis said. ''Not like, `Oh, we have another workout. Oh, we have to do squats today, or we got a 24-period practice.' It's we're here to work and get better.''
Browning framed it differently. The Huskies quarterback believes Pettis has gotten better at many of the little things that ultimately make a difference. Browning, a sophomore, hopes he can make a similar jump between his second and third seasons.
''I think he's always worked hard but you kind of get over that curve where you have these little things you need to work on,'' Browning said. ''I'll probably have the same thing. You've got this curve you have to get over and once you get over that curve then you start playing a lot better. I've thought he always worked hard, always was a very productive receiver. Last year he showed up on third down and in the red zone a ton and I think he's done that this year and obviously playing really well.''
Pettis had 47 combined catches between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but just two receiving touchdowns. He has surpassed that total this season, finishing with 50 catches and his 14 touchdowns receptions were tied for seventh in the country. The reception numbers were low compared to Ross, but Pettis isn't often used on wide receiver screens the same way as Ross.
''Jake's obviously doing a lot better. Ross coming back helped a lot. He cleared a lot of stuff up for everyone else on the offense,'' Pettis said. ''We switched up some of the plays we were calling. There was a lot of stuff that went into it. I wouldn't say there was one thing I've done that made me better this year.''
Like a number of others on the offensive side of the ball, Pettis has benefited from the return of Ross. The speed and big-play ability of Ross have forced defenses to base much of their coverage on where he is on the field.
Pettis has been the biggest beneficiary. And it's why he could play such a key role against Alabama. Ross is likely to get plenty of attention from the Crimson Tide secondary, meaning Pettis, Chico McClatcher, Darrell Daniels and others must win their matchups to provide Browning with the options he needs.
Pettis will likely be one of Washington's most important players on the field on Dec. 31. And that's saying something.
''He's special,'' Ross said. ''Everything about him, his work ethic, just his mental game, everything that he's been working for is showing up.''
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